I’m not sure it’s possible for someone who has battled cancer to ever visit their oncologist without a little trepidation. Since the end of my chemotherapy regiment last July, I’ve been on a once-every-three-months-for-the-first-year schedule of follow-up scans.
Both times that this scan has approached, I’ve been filled with a sense of impending dread about what the scan might find. Last time, I was given relatively good news and needed only to follow up with my ENT to confirm that the “activity” picked up by the PET scan was just a simple cold. It turned out to be a simple cold that lasted about four weeks, but nevertheless, it wasn’t cancer and remission continued!
I thought the pre-scan jitters might be lessened the second time around, but they really were not. First of all, my insurance company (which has been fantastic about covering the majority of my medical bills…truly an unsung hero in all of this) rejected my claim for a PET scan. I don’t want to get too political here, but this was an honest-to-goodness #thanksobama moment, as my oncologist explained that insurance companies are not approving PET scans for sick people who need them because of the effects of Obamacare. PET scans are expensive and apparently many healthy people eligible for Obamacare would rather pay the penalty to not be insured than pay monthly for insurance itself. This leaves insurance companies with a higher ratio of sick-to-healthy people using their coverage than before, making them less money and causing them to deny the expensive PET procedure in many cases to make up the difference in their bottom line. Editor’s note: The point of this post is to give an update on my cancer remission, not engage in a debate on healthcare. I’m simply reporting what was told to me by my oncologist. Let’s move on.
So I had to get a CT scan instead of a PET scan this time. “Oh, great!” I thought. “Now I won’t have to avoid sugar for 24 hours or get injected with radioactive glucose and sit in the dark for an hour before the scan!”
That is a true statement, but I didn’t count on the different brand of fun that a CT scan would offer me. When I made the appointment, I was told that I had to come pick up a special contrast drink that would light up my innards in place of radioactive glucose. I would drink one the night before the scan and one an hour before the scan. Upon receiving the two 450 milliliter bottles of “berry smoothie,” I knew I was in for a real treat.
Choking down the first dose was a little like drinking Elmer’s glue with a slight berry flavor and some weird chunks in it. The flavor wasn’t as problematic for me as the disgusting texture of the “smoothie”–and the fact that there was just so dang much of it. Theresa, being the sleep-craving second trimester pregnant lady that she is, was long asleep by the time I was holding my nose, forcing it down my throat and hoping my gag reflex wouldn’t bring it back up. I went to sleep for about six hours and then woke up to repeat the exercise before we headed to the hospital for the scan.
I met a tech that I had not previously worked with in my various radiology department travails, and something about his demeanor told me that this was not going to be a quick and easy appointment.
He asked if I drank the stuff and I expressed my opinion on the experience and my fervent hope that it meant I would avoid needing an IV for the scan. I had forgotten the first rule of the hospital–if you’re here as a patient, we’re sticking you with a needle. If you’re name is Matt, you’re probably going to get stuck multiple times.
That policy was in full effect for my CT scan. The contrast I had ingested was apparently only for my abdomen and colon. An iodine IV was necessary to scan all the important areas where, you know, I actually once had cancer. The tech set about the process of finding a vein. As always, I told him about my vasovagal ways and that most people have better luck striking a vein in my right arm. He ignored this advice and gave punny meaning to the phrase “trying in vain” to find one there. He then moved on to my left arm, where he found a vein but failed to properly pierce it. He gave me a test injection, which I could taste in my mouth, and asked me if my arm hurt. It did, so he let out an expletive and informed me that the needle wasn’t all the way in my vein. He tried one more test injection that simply yielded more pain and another expletive (and one in my head, too). He moved on to my hand, poking it three different times and failing each time.
“For a young guy, you sure have terrible veins,” he sighed. For an old guy, you’re sure terrible at your job, I thought. He called over a colleague who “taught me everything I know” (Is that reassuring?) and he was able to get the IV into my right arm successfully and without any pain whatsoever. Four pricks for a simple IV is definitely a new record for me though. I’m sure my certificate is in the mail.
The CT scan proceeded normally from there. It’s very similar to a PET scan, except that the warm iodine is injected into the vein at certain points, which gives a warming sensation all over your body and leaves you with the sensation that you are on the verge of or already have wet your pants.
After the scan, life went back to normal, but my appointment to get the results wasn’t for another week, which gives the former cancer patient’s brain plenty of time to ruminate on what might be invisibly growing in their neck or on their spine or in their chest. I start examining my neck in the mirror more frequently and looking for lumps anywhere else. I console myself with the fact that I don’t seem to have any other lymphoma-like side effects, that there’s definitely not a lump and that I’ve gained weight recently. Theresa is particularly good at helping me chase away these horribly negative thoughts that tend to haunt me whenever I’m going to sleep.
With her pregnancy, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about how terribly inconvenient it would be to have to once again go through what we just finished up six months ago–especially when a pregnant woman with her own nauseous issues and compromised immune system would be forced to become my primary caretaker. The whole scenario frustrates me and becomes all too realistic in my brain sometimes. I trust that God has a plan for me and I am intensely aware of all the good that came from my cancer fight…I would just also love to find out that God hates reruns and we won’t have to do it again.
We had our doctor’s appointment today, so I was working from home. When Theresa picked me up, we were both suddenly very nervous about what we might be about to find out. Everything went incredibly smoothly when we got to the hospital though: The staff was happy to see us and the nurse took my blood without incident and told me she had seen me in the newspaper. We miraculously didn’t even have to wait that long to see the doctor. When we did, he didn’t beat around the bush: My scan was incredibly clear and didn’t even show any scar tissue anymore! Everything is perfect! Praise God! I honestly found myself fighting back tears of happiness and a huge burden was immediately lifted.
I’ve officially been in remission for six months, we’re finding out our baby’s gender in five days, and we’re heading to Arizona in 9 days. God continues to hold us in the palm of His hand, no matter how easy it is for me to doubt that sometimes. Life is good!